It was a battle for the grown folks Monday night (Apr. 20) on Instagram Live, as two of the most renowned figures in modern R&B — Teddy Riley and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds — took turns spinning their respective classics, to the delight of music fans across social media.
Though the battle between the two legendary writer-producers was originally scheduled for three Sundays prior, the bout was delayed by a combination of Babyface having tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and Teddy Riley taking issue with some elements of the Timbaland- and Swizz-Beatz-curated Verzuz series. The showdown was rescheduled for last Saturday, but that also proved premature, as technical issues on Riley’s end (which most bystanders blamed on his elaborate stage setup) ended up forcing a second postponement of the head-to-head.
Such issues also threatened to compromise the duo’s third try at the event, as viewers were told to decamp from Teddy Riley’s page to Babyface’s, and then Babyface had trouble patching Riley through to his own page. But by 8:10pm, both writer-producers were present and accounted for, and sounding good — finally ready to get the battle going. Issues with Teddy’s sound and Internet popped up throughout the bout, but the two competitors still nearly got all the way to round 20, before Riley’s connection cut out one final time, and the two could no longer get back into one another’s feeds.
Still, even with the late-inning quasi-rainout, there was still enough for a full ballgame. Check out how Billboard scored Monday night’s writer-producer’s duel between Babyface and Teddy Riley below.
Round 1: SWV’s “Right Here (Human Nature Remix)” (Teddy Riley) vs. Toni Braxton’s “Love Shoulda Brought You Home” (Babyface)
Rather than run back “The Show” as his opener like he attempted to use it on Saturday, Teddy instead opened with one of his greatest ’90s smashes, SWV’s “Right Here.” Babyface countered by telling a story about Michael Jackson (whose “Human Nature” Riley’s production sampled) using him to try to set up a date with Halle Berry — which ended up being a segue into a Halle quote from Boomerang, and then his own ’90s R&B opener from that movie’s soundtrack, Toni Braxton’s “Love Shoulda Brought You Home.” Expertly played, but tough to compete with “Right Here.”
WINNER: Teddy Riley
Round 2: Keith Sweat’s “Make It Last Forever” (Riley) vs. Babyface’s “Tender Lover” (Babyface)
A couple classic late-’80s slow jams, and the first entry from one of the artists as singer. Sweat’s jam is probably the slightly more undeniable of the two jams, but Babyface’s superior sound and impeccable timing tilts things back closer to his direction.
Round 3: Johnny Kemp’s “Just Got Paid” (Riley) vs. The Whispers’ “Rock Steady” (Babyface)
Always good to hear “Rock Steady,” which doesn’t quite get its due as a classic of the late ’80s. But even on a less-than-ideal sound system, there’s just no beating “Just Got Paid,” one of the truly essential records of the entire New Jack Swing era.
Round 4: Foxy Brown feat. Blackstreet’s “Get Me Home” (Riley) vs. Babyface’s “Every Time I Close My Eyes”
Babyface’s first “I ain’t know you did that one” on the night, for this Foxy Brown jam featuring Teddy’s Blackstreet group — which admittedly wasn’t probably on a lot of folks’ prediction cards for the night, largely because it was produced by the Trackmasters. A flustered ‘Face counters with his own ballad “Every Time I Close My Eyes,” a great ballad that nonetheless feels like a swing and a miss at Riley’s curveball. Not a total win for either.
Round 5: Guy’s “Piece of My Love” (Riley) vs. After 7’s “Ready or Not” (Babyface)
This time, Babyface counters ballad with ballad, and he won’t be denied. “Ready or Not” probably doesn’t even quite make Babyface’s all-time A list, but that just shows how deep his catalog goes.
Round 6: Hi-Five’s “I Like the Way (The Kissing Game)” (Riley) vs. Bobby Brown’s “Every Litte Step” (Babyface)
Our first repeat from Saturday night is Riley’s Hot 100 No. 1 for ’90s teen R&B group Hi-Five, which is less of a surprise blow to Babyface this time around, but still connects with impressive force. Still, Babyface takes that as a cue to rerun one of his own haymakers from Saturday, with Bobby Brown’s irresistible “Every Little Step.” Hi-Five are fun, but Bobby’s still the blueprint.
Round 7: Keith Sweat’s “I Want Her” (Riley) vs. Tevin Campbell’s “Can We Talk” (Babyface)
Keith Sweat’s classic breakout hit gets Babyface speaking in tongues, raving, “When that thing came out, I was mad — oh my God!” and calling Riley the king of New Jack Swing. Babyface counters with Tevin Campbell’s 1993 top 10 hit, but he seems to know the round’s already good as decided.
Round 8: Guy’s “I Like” (Riley) vs. Karyn White “The Way You Love Me” (Babyface)
“When they made love, they made love on the fast songs, too,” Teddy offers of his music’s impact between the sheets in the late ’80s — playing one of his breakthrough group’s signature hits for evidence. Convincing, and Babyface’s counter with Karyn White doesn’t quite rise to the competition.
Round 9: Heavy D’s “Is It Good to You” (Riley) vs. Tevin Campbell’s “I’m Ready” (Babyface)
Hands up if you called Tevin Campbell getting two songs in Babyface’s first ten picks. Nothing against the prodigious R&B talent, but a catalog like Babyface’s doesn’t need to be double-dipping this early. If the IG stream had to cut out at some point — which of course it did — this was as good a point as any.
Round 10: Doug E. Fresh feat. Slick Rick’s “The Show” (Riley) vs. The Deele’s “Two Occasions”
Riley’s planned opener on Saturday finally gets its proper sonic showcase as his first-half closer on Monday. The beatboxed early hip-hop standard still sounds fantastic, and is a smart play at this point in the competition, since Babyface has nothing in his catalog to really match it. But Babyface still has his own kickoff jam from Saturday to get through, and he wisely chooses his ’80s group The Deele’s pitch-perfect “Two Occasions” to parry here. We’ll call it a draw.
Round 11: Jay-Z feat. Blackstreet’s “The City Is Mine” (Teddy Riley) vs. Bobby Brown’s “Rock Wit’cha” (Babyface)
“I gotta keep it in the clubs… a world-renowned, incredible, one of the greatest rappers of all-time,” Teddy teases, before dropping a Roc-a-Fella hit that he did produce in Jay-Z’s “The City Is Mine.” Not the Jiggaman’s all-time best, certainly, but just having a single with Jay is a flex for Riley. Babyface returning with maybe his fourth-best single off Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel album doesn’t quite get the job done.
Round 12: Bobby Brown’s “On Our Own” (Babyface) vs. Michael Jackson’s “In the Closet”
Babyface’s third Bobby Brown selection — this one from the “soundtrack world” — is a sentimental favorite for its connection to Ghostbusters 2. But the time is just right for Teddy to one-up that be whipping out one of his MJ collaborations for the first time — in this case, the blistering “In the Closet.” Babyface better step it up soon.
Round 13: Babyface’s “When Can I See You Again” (Babyface) vs. Blackstreet’s “Before I Let You Go.”
And here we go. Speaking of flexes: “Madonna and Michael didn’t agree on a lot of things… but they both told me that they liked this song.” With that, Babyface breaks out the acoustic to perform his ’90s solo smash “When Can I See You Again” live in the studio. “They told me I couldn’t bring my instruments!” protests a chuckling but clearly displeased Riley. “Before I Let You Go” is a strong comeback for Riley, but whether he meant to be sneaky with it or not, it’s definitely a win for Babyface.
— Jamila McMillon (@Jamila_Mc) April 21, 2020
Round 14: Babyface’s “Whip Appeal” (Babyface) vs. Guy’s “Let’s Chill” (Riley)
Now Babyface has the momentum, playing his second-straight five-star ballad, while headphone and charger issues interrupt Riley’s ability to stem the turning tides. He eventually gets to “Let’s Chill,” but the compromised sound makes this an easy decision.
Round 15: Johnny Gill “My My My” (Babyface) vs. Blackstreet “Deep” (Riley)
Babyface keeps the good times rolling with Johnny Gill’s “My My My,” a business-time ballad potent enough that the writer/producer even takes his phone out to wave it around like a lighter. (Worth noting that it’s the only song played tonight whose thumbprint can be found directly on one of the current top 20 songs in the country, too.) Riley goes deep into his catalog — somewhat literally, with his group’s 2002 single “Deep” — and it’s a respectable pull, but not a real contender here.
Round 16: TLC’s “Red Light Special” (Babyface) vs. Janet Jackson feat. Blackstreet’s “I Get Lonely (TNT Remix)”
Babyface is in the zone now, with the single that best represented the middle part of TLC’s diamond-certified masterpiece CrazySexyCool. Teddy tries to keep up with the TNT Remix of Janet Jackson’s “I Get Lonely,” but even with the alternate mix, the song’s DNA is still unmistakably Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis at its core. (“I didn’t know if remixes counted in this thing,” is Babyface’s more than slightly shady comment on his rival’s song selection. “That ain’t a problem for me anyway, ‘coz I don’t do remixes.”) Riley might need to step up the tempo immediately, because slow jams is clearly Kenneth Edmonds’ home turf.
Round 17: Karyn White’s “Superwoman” (Babyface) vs. Michael Jackson’s “Jam” (Riley)
Again, nothing against Karyn White, but with only four songs left and the myriad hits Babyface still has on the table — did he really need to go back to that well? The door is open for Teddy to reseize the momentum, and that’s exactly what he does with his second Dangerous banger, the aptly titled “Jam.” Shoutout to the song’s video, co-starring the other MJ; hope Riley wasn’t too busy preparing for battle to check out The Last Dance on Sunday night.
Round 18: Toni Braxton’s “You’re Makin’ Me High” (Babyface) vs. Wreckx-n-Effect’s “Rump Shaker” (Riley)
Now we’re talking. Into the home stretch, and Babyface finally plays the first of his Hot 100 No. 1s: Toni Braxton’s peerless 1996 R&B seduction “You’re Makin’ Me High.” But Riley’s not playing around anymore either, answering with a No. 2 hit of his own in Wreckx-n-Effect’s enduring party anthem “Rump Shaker” — even breaking out the song’s “Blind Alley”-sampling Teddy 2 remix. Close one for sure, but sometimes it’s as slim as the difference between a No. 1 and a No. 2.
Round 19: Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You” vs….
“I like it when people take it to the bedroom all around the world… to a song like this.” And finally, Babyface breaks into the Boyz II Men. He had his choice of double-digit-week No. 1s for the ’90s R&B group to break out, and here he opts for the 14-week-reigning “I’ll Make Love to You” — an appropriate choice in an evening of highly weaponized slow jams.
Bad moment for Riley’s Internet to cut out (again), and in the meantime, Babyface gets to play a few bonus jams. He starts with The Boys’ “Dial My Heart,” an adorable late-’80s smash that would make 99% of other producers’ top tier and probably registers somewhere between third and fourth for Face. Then, just for the hell of it, he breaks out the acoustic again for one of his “white songs,” the Grammy-winning “Change the World” with Eric Clapton. And then for good measure while Riley still knocks on the door in vain, Toni Braxton’s heart-rending “Another Sad Love Song.” Teddy’s about to lose this thing in absentia.
But now it’s back to Riley’s feed, where Babyface is waiting to get in, and Riley is playing an extended version of MJ’s “Blood on the Dance Floor” while jamming along on his piano. He follows that up with Keith Sweat’s “How Deep Is Your Love,” while the Instagram comments yell at him to try to let Babyface back in the room. Meanwhile, now Babyface is back on his own live feed playing Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road.” The two try one more time to link up, but IG’s not letting them join one another’s feeds again. This round ends without Teddy Riley even really submitting an official entrant.
Round 20: Whitney Houston & CeCe Winans’ “Count on Me” / Whitney Houston & Mariah Carey’s “When You Believe” (Babyface) vs. Blackstreet feat. Dr. Dre & Queen Pen’s “No Diggity” (Riley)
Babyface, getting impatient with the technical issues, signs off with Whitney Houston and CeCe Winans’ “Count on Me” — you knew we weren’t getting through the whole night without some Waiting to Exhale — before seguing that seamlessly into Whitney and Mariah Carey’s Prince of Egypt event duet “When You Believe,” a perfect closing moment. Over on his feed, Teddy plays his ace with the unassailable “No Diggity,” though it doesn’t hit how it should after Babyface’s big closing and all the technical difficulties. “We’re kinda growing up young,” Riley laughs on the phone with Dr. Dre afterwards, before letting the jams continue with MJ’s “Remember the Time.”
Wider Catalog: Teddy Riley
Babyface probably could’ve out-extended Teddy here — only one of these two guys has collabs with Fall Out Boy and Ariana Grande — but Face decided to mostly stay in his ’80s and ’90s R&B comfort zone during the competitoin, while Riley stretched out into hip-hop a little more fluidly.
Biggest Snub: Take your Babyface pick (Point: Teddy Riley)
Obviously Babyface wasn’t going to get to all his classics — maybe not even all his No. 1s, including a pair with 20 combined weeks at No. 1 with Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” (not officially played during regulation) and Madonna’s “Take a Bow.” That wouldn’t be so much of a problem if he didn’t double up on his productions for so many other artists — two each for Karyn White and Tevin Campbell, three for Bobby Brown — where one song would have sufficed. (OK fine, we can live with the three Bobby picks, though “Don’t Be Cruel” shoulda gotten in there over “On Our Own.”)
Best Banter: Babyface
Obviously. Both men were welcoming and deferential hosts, but Babyface had the little edge and subtle cockiness that comes with decades of uninterrupted success across all levels of the music industry — as (rightfully) gushing as he was about his competitor’s importance and influence, every “I didn’t know you did that one” comment was a clear knife to Riley’s insides.
Biggest K.O.: Babyface
We’ll likely never know if it was breaking out the acoustic for “When Can I See You Again” was meant as a power play for Babyface to get under Teddy Riley’s skin or just an innocuous misunderstanding of the event’s rules (for Riley, anyway). Regardless, it swung the entire night’s momentum, and Teddy never properly recovered.
People’s Champ: Babyface
There’s no question whose side the Internet was on tonight: As many classics as Teddy Riley brought to the showdown, and as well-plotted as their deployment was through at least the event’s first half, he was still fighting against the tide, since one perfect ballad and one well-placed comment of (possibly unwitting) shade from Babyface — with his acoustic guitar, his white wine, and his Grammy statues — and it instantly seemed like he’d been winning the whole time. We were reminded why Riley is rightfully considered an all-time great, but also this was always Babyface’s game to lose.
FINAL SCORE: 13-10-2, Babyface